WO2002054327A1 - Method and system for a set of interrelated activities converging on a series of collectible virtual objects - Google Patents

Method and system for a set of interrelated activities converging on a series of collectible virtual objects

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Publication number
WO2002054327A1
WO2002054327A1 PCT/IL2001/000011 IL0100011W WO2002054327A1 WO 2002054327 A1 WO2002054327 A1 WO 2002054327A1 IL 0100011 W IL0100011 W IL 0100011W WO 2002054327 A1 WO2002054327 A1 WO 2002054327A1
Authority
WO
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
virtual
entity
system
entities
server
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/IL2001/000011
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Lior Messinger
Original Assignee
Noks-Com Ltd.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

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Classifications

    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63FCARD, BOARD, OR ROULETTE GAMES; INDOOR GAMES USING SMALL MOVING PLAYING BODIES; VIDEO GAMES; GAMES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A63F13/00Video games, i.e. games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions
    • A63F13/30Interconnection arrangements between game servers and game devices; Interconnection arrangements between game devices; Interconnection arrangements between game servers
    • A63F13/35Details of game servers
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63FCARD, BOARD, OR ROULETTE GAMES; INDOOR GAMES USING SMALL MOVING PLAYING BODIES; VIDEO GAMES; GAMES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A63F13/00Video games, i.e. games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions
    • A63F13/12Video games, i.e. games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions involving interaction between a plurality of game devices, e.g. transmisison or distribution systems
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63FCARD, BOARD, OR ROULETTE GAMES; INDOOR GAMES USING SMALL MOVING PLAYING BODIES; VIDEO GAMES; GAMES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A63F2300/00Features of games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions, e.g. on a television screen, showing representations related to the game
    • A63F2300/40Features of games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions, e.g. on a television screen, showing representations related to the game characterised by details of platform network
    • A63F2300/407Data transfer via internet
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63FCARD, BOARD, OR ROULETTE GAMES; INDOOR GAMES USING SMALL MOVING PLAYING BODIES; VIDEO GAMES; GAMES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A63F2300/00Features of games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions, e.g. on a television screen, showing representations related to the game
    • A63F2300/50Features of games using an electronically generated display having two or more dimensions, e.g. on a television screen, showing representations related to the game characterized by details of game servers

Abstract

A method and system for the collection of virtual entities within a data communication network. The virtual entities representing virtual animated characters are established on a server system. Clients communicating with the server via the data network, download the virtual entities to the computer platforms hosting the client systems thereby becoming the owners of the virtual entities. The virtual entities are manipulated in diverse manner by the client systems. The server is operative in linking client systems in order to make available the option of conducting virtual entity-related activities among the users. The activities are operative in the exchange of virtual entities among the users and thereby further modifications in the virtual entity ownership occur. The server system is operative in validating, verifying, and suitably registering all the ownership changes.

Description

METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR A SET OF INTERRELATED ACTIVITIES CONVERGING ON A SERIES OF COLLECTIBLE VIRTUAL OBJECTS

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a method and system for collecting virtual objects via a set of predefined activities, in general and to a method and system for the collection of virtual entities manipulable within a linked group of amusement-oriented activities extending across a set of application spaces, in particular.

DISCUSSION OF THE RELATED ART Virtual characters are known in the art as structured and bounded visual entities having predefined virtual behavioral characteristics manifested as graphic displays associated with interactive computer programs, such as video games. Presently, practically all the available virtual characters are entities developed in order to be tightly integrated within a particular gaming environment. Virtual characters may be used in interactive video games that are implemented in specific gaming devices, such as video game consoles, arcade game-units or other suitable hardware devices having the basic components of a digital computer. A user typically plays the games by manually manipulating the virtual characters behavior within a given permissible range determined by the games' rules set. The manipulation or the reaction to the behavior of the virtual character is accomplished typically via a game controller sub-device. The rules of the games are established by pre-programmed control devices of the specific video game console or by executable instructions of a game program stored in the specific digital computer.

The virtual entities are two or three-dimensional visual displays of graphic structures commonly endowed with appropriate animation capabilities, and accompanied by sound effects. The virtual entities are typically generated by suitable software modules out of specific set of multimedia objects such as animation and sound files. The virtual characters are typically integrated into a specific computer game and have no independent functionality.

SUMMARY OF THE PRESENT INVENTION One aspect of the present invention regards a method for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects. The method involves the following steps: In a first computer system connected to a data communication network and associated with a server system establishing a graphical object representing a virtual character, communicating the virtual object representing virtual character to a second computer system connected to the data communication network and associated with a client system presenting requests for the virtual object, accessing the contents of the visual object to recover the encoded identity and ownership information residing therein, validating the identity and ownership information associated with the visual object, and maintaining dynamically the ownership information associated with the visual object. In the second computer the method involves the following steps: Accessing the contents of the visual object received from the first computer system, manipulating the visual object received from the first computer system, including displaying, moving, playing the visual object, communicating requests to the first computer system regarding the creation of links to a third computer system connected to the a client system.

A second aspect of the present invention regards a system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects. The system contains the following elements: A virtual object, which is a single self-contained entity and includes, as integral parts of the virtual object the following sub elements: a displayable three dimensional image representing a virtual character, encoded textual information relating to the virtual object including data relating to the identity of the virtual object, and encoded textual information relating to the ownership of the virtual object.

A third aspect of the present invention regards a method for a controlled collecting of data communication network-based virtual objects. The method consists of the following steps: In a first computer system connected to a data communication network and associated with a server system offering virtual objects for collection, transmitting the at least one virtual objects representing virtual characters to at least one client system associated with a second computer system, updating dynamically the ownership information associated with the visual object, authenticating the identity and ownership information associated with the visual object; in the second computer, obtaining the content of the visual objects received from the first computer system, and running the visual objects received from the first computer system, and introducing requests to the first computer system regarding the creation of links to a client system associated with a third computer system connected to the data communication network.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS The novel features that are characteristic of the present invention are described in the appended claims. The invention itself will be best understood by reference to the following detailed description of an illustrative embodiment when read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:

Fig. 1 is a schematic illustration of selected components in an exemplary computing and communication environment, within which the proposed method and system can be to implemented, according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and Fig. 2 is a block diagram illustrating an exemplary structure of the virtual entity server system, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

Fig. 3 is a schematic block diagram of an exemplary set of functional software components and data information structures constituting the virtual entity server application, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention;

Fig. 4 is a block diagram illustrating an exemplary structure of a client system incorporating the hardware and software components operative in the implementation of the virtual entity client application, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

Fig. 5 is a reproduction of the visual display surface of an exemplary user interface associated with the virtual entity activity center, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

Fig. 6 is a reproduction of the visual display surface of an exemplary user interface to the online meeting place of the system's users referred to as the "Lobby", in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

Fig. 7 is a reproduction of the visual display surface of an exemplary user interface associated with the on-line virtual entity exchange mechanism, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention; and

Fig. 8 is a reproduction of the visual display surface of an exemplary video game performed within the framework of the virtual entity gaming mechanism, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

A method and system for the manipulation of collectable virtual entities is disclosed. In the preferred embodiment of the present invention the entities referred to are 3D virtual interactive toy characters having appropriate external plaything-like appearances and game-related interactive capabilities such as animation and sound to enable suitable handling. The 3D toy characters can be transmitted or moved across a series of gaming spaces positioned on computing platforms connectable to a data communication network such as the Internet or more specifically the World Wide Web (Web). It will be clear to those skilled in the art that in other preferred embodiments the virtual articles referred to could be having different external appearances, and predefined internal functionalities to represent useful virtual items to be advantageously utilized as digital messengers, electronic salesman, simulated tourist guides, synthetic newscasters, and the like. In other preferred embodiments of the present invention the data communication network could be a cellular phone network, a satellite communication system, a Local Area Network, or an interactive cable television system. The exemplary computing platforms described are personal computers, data network servers, and optionally interactive arcade game devices. In other preferred embodiments Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), intelligent cellular phones, video game consoles, or any other electronic devices could be used in order to accomplish the objectives of the invention. Therefore it is important to note that the following description of a preferred embodiment is provided as an exemplary realization of the underlying ideas of the invention in order to present a detailed and clear explanation of the proposed method and system. None of the following descriptions relating to the specific characteristics of the preferred embodiment are meant to be limiting, as the limits of the present invention will be defined only in the attached claims. The method and system proposed is accomplished in the following manner. A set of graphical data structures encoded into binary format to represent virtual entities are manufactured by a specifically developed virtual entity server embedded on one or more computer hardware or software platforms across a data communication network. The virtual entity server includes a set of the virtual-entity-supporting routines in order to enable the handling, moving, purchasing, exchanging, and collecting of the entities by interested users operating client systems implemented on a plurality of computer hardware or software platforms across a data communication network. In addition to the foregoing supportive functions the virtual entity server provides meeting places, information services, chat-based exchange forums, message boards, auctions and user registration. The server also functions as a broker representing third parties, which desire to manufacture and distribute their own sets of specific virtual entities. The server provides virtual-entity ownership registration, supports entity redemption, and operative as an agent assisting interested users to find opposite parties to participate in on-line meetings in order to accomplish virtual-entities-related deals. The users operating client systems embedded on computing devices across a data communication network are provided the option of connecting to the virtual entity server in order to download virtual entities to the client platforms in order to engage in a variety of predefined entity-collection related activities provided by the virtual entity application. The users can utilizing a virtual entity client application engage in a series of server-independent activities such as playing with the acquired entities, organize the sets of collected entities into specific categories, and the like. The users could also download from the virtual-entity server specifically developed games, which makes available the option of introducing the virtual entities into the games as participating characters.

Users could interact with other users without using the services of the server in order to engage in virtual-entity-related activities such as games, exchange, collection and the like. According to the outcome of the inter-user games or inter-user negotiations the ownership of the entities can be switched among the users via the services of the virtual server system. Thus, the collectible entities could be moved among the client systems of the users while participating in their private or semi-private interaction. Additional activity spaces could be utilized such as video game consoles and arcade machines with data communication network connectivity capabilities or having independent functions. Virtual entities could be redeemed by utilizing suitable arcade machines that will provide the interested user with a physical copy of the virtual entity such as a concrete toy. The server provides an entity ownership switching and verifying mechanism. The server assigns unique identification numbers or names to the registered users of the system. In the same manner the server system assigns unique identification numbers or names to each virtual entity. The server manages a list of ownership links between a user and the owned entities. When an entity is acquired by a user following the downloading of the entity from the server or following the delivery of an entity from an another client platform the server records the resulting changes in the ownership of the entity. When a change in the ownership occurs the appropriate ownership links are updated. The update is recorded in a suitable transaction record and the user number is modified in a suitable ownership link record.

It is important to note that in addition to the described activities and elements diverse other components and functions are contemplated for the proposed system and method. For example, individual users or businesses could design and order their own sets of virtual entities from the virtual entity server system to be used for sales promotion, advertising, marketing, training, and the like. Sets of virtual entities could also be used advantageously by businesses as gifts for the children of customers and/or employees at special occasions.

Referring now to Fig 1 illustrative of the computing and communication environment within which the proposed method and system is implemented, according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention. A plurality of users 10,12, 14,16,18 operating client systems embedded on computing platform are intermittently connected to a virtual entity server system 28 through a data communication network 26. In order to accomplish the desired connection the users 10, 12,14,16, 18 utilizing standard communication devices such as modems, network interface cards, and communication lines. The users 10, 12,14,16, 18 are having virtual entity client systems implemented on the computing platforms thereof. Users 10,11,14,16,18 could utilize various computing platforms such as personal computers, PDAs, "smart" cellular phone devices, intelligent workstations, minicomputers, video game consoles, interactive TV controllers, and the like. In the preferred embodiment of the present invention the data communication network is the Internet and the connection to server 28 is accomplished by the use of appropriate network browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Users 10,12,14,16,18 can be functioning independently without network connection or can connect intermittently to other users 10,12,14,16,18 by utilizing the appropriate services of other server systems. Virtual entity server system 28 is a specifically developed application embedded on a computing platform in a data communication network such as the Internet. Server 28 having a specifically developed virtual-entity application and virtual entity database implemented in order to provide appropriate virtual-entity-related services to users 10,12,14,16,18. Although only one server 28 is shown on Fig. 1 it will be easily perceived that a plurality of servers could be operative across the network providing the same services through using specific load balancing techniques in order to enable to the users thereof rapid, efficient access. A plurality of video gaming machines 20,22,24 such as arcade game devices having virtual-entity-related applications implemented, virtual-entity data structures or realized physical figures stored, and provided with network connectivity capabilities, are intermittently connected to virtual entity server system 28 via a data communication network such as the Internet. Gaming machines 20,22,24 are utilizing standard communication devices, such as a modem, network interface cards and suitable communication lines. Video gaming machines 20,22,24 could be also functioning independently without network connection. Referring to Fig. 2 illustrating the components constituting the virtual entity server system. Server 30 is an aggregated set of software applications operative in providing virtual-entity-related services to a plurality of users operating client systems 10,12,14, 16. Client systems 10, 12,14,16 are implemented on computer platforms and connected intermittently to server 30. Server 30 comprises operating system 32, communication device 34, and storage device 36. Operating system 32 manages, co-ordinates, and supervises the execution of the application programs running in server system 32. According to requests submitted by the various application programs operating system 32 shares the hardware resources among the applications, handles input and output, determines multi-tasking order, manages the simultaneous execution of programs competing for processor time, and the like. Operating system 32 could be one of the known operating systems such as UNIX, Linux, Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows CE, OS/2, AIX, VMS, and the like. Communication device 34 provides network connection capabilities to server 30. Device 34 could be a modem or a network interface card (NIC). Storage device 36 is a computer-readable media device such as a hard disk. Device 36 stores the software programs and data structures holding encoded information that are needed for the operation of server 30. Storage device 36 contains network server 38, communication handler 40, virtual entity server logic manager 42, virtual entity builder 44, database manager 46, registered users manager 48, virtual entities database 50, registered users database 52, and virtual entity owner manager 51. Network server 38 responsible for providing network services requested by client systems 10,12,14,16 such as accepting the clients' demands via communication handler 40 and communication device 34, loading the suitable Web pages and transmitting thereof to the users. Network server 38 is also operatively transmitting the applicable requests and queries from client systems 10,12,14,16 to the virtual entity server logic manager 42.

Virtual entity server logic manager 42 is the main application program of the virtual entity server 30. Manager 42 is functional in the activation of the operative routines of the server 30 according to users' requests. Logic manager 32 also controls the running of the application along a predefined logical execution path. Registered users manager 48 provides user registration, answers user queries, and controls the various virtual-entity-related mechanisms such as entity manufacturing, meeting places, entity exchange, and the like. Virtual entity builder 44 responsible for the creation of the virtual entities. Virtual entity ownership manager 51 monitors the entity-related exchange interaction among users and operative in the registration of modifications in the ownership of the virtual entities. Registered users database 52 stores the list of registered users. Virtual entities database 50 stores the sets of entities created by virtual entity builder 44 with the proper ownership indications. Database 50 also holds sets of virtual entities received from a third party. In database 50 the entities could be organized sorted by categories, by entity identification, by owner, or the like.

Typically the virtual entities are suitably encoded data structures representing 3D graphical characters having interactive capabilities, sound, animation and the like. The 3D files are designed to be associated with entity-specific information structures containing activity control data such as status flags, and record information. The record information could constitute fields such as entity identification and general text, The data stored in the information structures could include control data such as entity category, entity unique identification, manufacturer or designer, owner, status flags, general text descriptions of the entity, and the like. A category could identify a set of entities or a set-theme such as "Star Wars" characters or "Pokimon" characters. Each entity will be unique having a singular identification such as E-Scout, R2D2, X-Wing, War Turtle, and the like. Ownership will be indicated by a unique identification number or nickname utilized by the individual user. When an entity is acquired in a manner, which will be described hereunder, in the entity-related information file an ownership status flag will be set and the owner's identification within the same file will be updated. With each change in the ownership status the suitable entity record will be properly maintained. A more detailed description of the functionalities and operative components of the virtual entity server will be set forth hereunder in association with the following drawings.

Referring now to Fig. 3 illustrating of the functional components constituting the Virtual entity server application 100. Server application 100 includes the following software modules: Users registration handler 102, users query handler 104, users requests handler 106, virtual entity ownership handler 108, virtual entity exchange module 110, literature manager 112, gaming module 114, virtual entity builder module 116, virtual entity redemption module 115, and chat engine 122. Server application 100 also includes various supportive data structures. The structures are computer files in suitably diverse formats to hold the virtual entities, control data, and appropriate application-specific information. The data structures consists of information table 120, control table 122, transaction table 124, literature table 126, virtual entities database 118, registered users database 120, games database 117, and virtual entity sets database 121. When a new user connects to the virtual entity server system 30 of Fig. 2 users registration handler 102 provides the option of registration. The user is allocated a suitable identification such as an identification number or a nickname and the personal details thereof with the new identification are stored in registered user database 120. After registration the user can utilize the entire set of services provided by application 100. Registered user database 120 could also be utilized for purposes of statistics, targeted advertising, -marketing, sales promotion, useful surveys, opinion pools, and the like. The registered user is given the option of interacting with the virtual entities stored within virtual entities database 118 by utilizing users requests handler routine 106. The entities could be loaded from database 118 and displayed to the user. Users query handler 104 provides answers to the user's inquiries regarding entity location, entity ownership, list of new entities, list of games, list of other users on-line, and the like. Literature manager 112 provides the interested user with trade articles, industry news, messages, advertisements, magazines, and books related to sets and categories of virtual entities. The user is also provided with the option of downloading the virtual entities, and the utilizing gaming module 114. In addition selected games could be downloaded from the games database 117. The application 100 enables the user to acquire a virtual entity in a number of different ways. The user can win an entity as a prize for winning a game, the user can get an entity for free as a bonus for registering, as a bonus for notifying a friend about the application 100 and thereby effecting the registration of the same friend. The entities could be also purchased under some circumstances. Entities could be swapped or exchanged among users. A user can meet and converse with other users in the meeting place, utilizing the chat engine 122 and could effect a mutually agreed exchange of virtual entities through the services of exchange module 110. As each virtual entity is valuable and unique, a precise and complete monitoring of the entities is performed by application 100. Virtual entities acquired, won, purchased or exchanged are suitably marked and identified as "owned" utilizing the control table 122 and information table 120. Each virtual entity related transaction is appropriately recorded in the transactions table 124. As a result of the transaction monitoring and tracking, a virtual entity could not be illicitly copied and illegally registered. The transactions are appropriately encrypted to prevent illegal tampering.

Virtual entity builder 44 is responsible for the creation of the virtual entities. The entities are created by the appropriate aggregation and linking of stored multimedia files such as animation files, and sound files. A virtual entity acquired by a user is downloaded to the user's client system 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 or could be delivered through conventional distribution channels such as mail or messenger services in order to be installed on the user's computer. After the installation the user could access the server, download the selected virtual entities utilizing a virtual entity client application. The client application will be described hereunder in association with the following drawings.

Virtual entities will be produced in series, where each series has a distinguishing theme for example dinosaurs, sports cars, robots, and the like.

Virtual entities could be created in a number of ways. Virtual entity builder module 166 could use basic graphical pattern files to manufacture different figures or characters according to predefined designs. The designs could be initiated by the operators of the application 100 consequent to various motives such as popularity of certain figures, functionality, commercial orders, and the like. Virtual entity creation also could be "outsourced" by selling or renting the building module 116 to third parties and allow the creation of virtual entity sets or categories or "albums". The sets thus created could be transmitted to server 30 and stored into virtual entities database 118 when set information could be kept in virtual set entity registry 121. For example a famous commercial enterprise such as Disney Productions could order or independently produce a set virtual entities representing popular characters launched in a successful moving picture and allow distribution of the entities as for purposes of sales promotion and advertisement. The virtual entity set could be called as the "Mulan Set", and could be populated with virtual characters participating in the known movie with the substantially same title. Virtual entities could be based on popular toy figures such as Pokimons or could be wholly original. Graphical artists could be commissioned to design virtual characters in co-operation with game designers and thus create integrated game environments supportive of the virtual entity application.

Virtual entities can be moved across diverse gaming spaces. In addition to the server and the client gaming space other devices could be utilized in to be used as containers to virtual entity related activities. Video game consoles, PDAs, cellular phone devices, interactive TV controllers, dashboard instruments, or other computing apparatus could be utilized. In addition to being game containers arcade machines could be used as virtual entity redeemers. When a user desires to redeem or "realize" or "concretize" an owned entity a specific arcade game device can be utilized. The machine could have communication capabilities in order to monitor the transaction or examine the legal ownership of the entity or could perform independently. When the arcade machine links communicatively to application 100 the virtual entity redemption module 116 will handle the transaction by enabling the required action and appropriately deleting the redeemed virtual entity from the gaming space thereof. It is important to note that the exemplary application in the foregoing description could include supplementary routines, data structures and additional options. A targeted advertisement module activated according to the information in the registered users database could be added message boards could be utilized, virtual entity auctions could be held. The application routines could be supplemented with quizzes, spelling competitions and like activities with virtual entities as prizes to the winners.

Virtual entities belonging to a user are downloaded or otherwise delivered to the user's client system implemented on a hardware platform such as a personal computer. The delivered entity is manipulable by the user through the services of the virtual entity client system. The entities collected can be displayed, played with, exchanged, and the like. The activities can be performed via connecting to playing partners through the virtual entity server or by connecting directly to other user platforms according to the preferences of the users. The structure, the components, and the functionalities of the client system will be described next

Referring now to Fig. 4 the virtual entity client system 54 supports a number of functionalities. The client system enables the operating user to access the server system, and download selected entities, and selected games. The system 54 also provides the option of displaying and interacting with the virtual entities, and allows the user to set the local virtual entities in the downloaded games. The system 54 provides communication with the virtual entity server system 30 of Fig. 2, supports the storing of the received new entities, and performs the deletion of entities lost. The activities are provided by at least two applications: the virtual entity activity center application 70 and the gaming applications 64. The user of client system 54 could also interact with remote sites including the virtual entity system such as the virtual entity server system 30 of Fig. 2 and other client systems 10,12,14, 16 of Fig. 2. The above-mentioned interaction includes downloading virtual entities, exchanging virtual entities, meeting and chatting with other users of the client systems 10, 12,14,16, reading virtual entity-related literature, and the like.

Virtual entity client system 54 contains operating system 56, communication device 58, and storage device 60. Operating system 56 controls the running of the application programs, allocates memory and other resources, and handles input/output, communications, and user interfacing. Any known operating system that is functional in a networking environment can be utilized. The operating systems that can be implemented are UNIX, Linux, Window NT, Windows 98, Windows CE, AIX, OS/2, VMS, and the like. Communication device 58 is functional in connecting the system 54 to various server systems located within a data communication network such as the Internet via standard communication lines. Device 58 can be a modem, a network interface card, or the like. Storage device 60 is preferably a hard disk. Device 60 is used to store the aggregated set of software modules and data structures constituting the virtual client entity application and the other supporting utility modules. Device 60 contains network browser 63, communication handler 66, gaming applications 64, desktop loader 68, virtual entity activity center application 70, and database manager 72. In addition storage device 60 contains the local gaming applications database 74 and local virtual entities database 76. Network browser 63 is operative in interfacing the client system 54 with other server systems across a data communication network such as virtual entity server system 30 of Fig. 2. Network browser 63 can be any of the known network browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape's Navigator. Communication handler 40 provides interaction with communication device 34. Handler 40 will send and receive messages to the virtual entity server 30 of Fig. 2. The messages could be sent from the virtual entity activity center application 70 or from the gaming applications 64 regarding the downloading, the deletion or the addition of the virtual entities. Virtual entity activity center application 70 is the main application program activating and controlling all the virtual entity-related activities of the user of client system 54. Activity center application 70 provides the user with the following functionalities: a) Displaying the virtual entities on the display device b) Displaying a series of virtual entities c) Displaying a series of virtual entities with information about completing the series d) Loading the virtual entity to the desktop of the display device e) Trading virtual entities with other users f) Providing instructions regarding the controlling of the application g) Connecting to the virtual entity server system.

The virtual entity activity center application 70 connects to virtual entities or series of virtual entities stored in local virtual entities database 76 by utilizing the services of the database manager 72. The virtual entities could be organized in series or categories or "albums" in database 76. As the entities are collectible there is a great importance in locating a "missing" entity in the series. An individual entity could be loaded onto the desktop of the display device 55 by utilizing the desktop loader 68. The desktop loader 68 has the following functionality: a) Displaying a number of 3D entities on the desktop of the display device 55 b) Displaying automatically and periodically a virtual entity on the desktop when the period between the displays is predefined. c) Enabling the user to predefine the point in time for the display.

The automatic display could be performed at upon system start-up, or at preset times a day, or at connection time to the data communication network, or at a certain predefined point in time. The detailed operation and structure of the desktop loader 68 is described in the related PCT Patent Application "Method and

System for Loading Three Dimensional Visual Objects into the Video Display

Area of a Two Dimensional Graphical User Interface", Application Number PCT\IL00\00649 submitted on 12 October 2000. Gaming engine 64 is used to load games from local gaming applications database 74. Games are played for entertainment purposes and at the same time for gaining or loosing virtual entities. The games are designed in such a manner that the collected virtual toy entities could be introduced therein as participating characters. The games are played with users of other client systems 10,12,14,16. Several games exist to gain virtual entities such as arcade games, gambling, Trivia, Pinball, Cannons, and the like. It is important to note that additional games could be utilized after suitable modification in order to make available the option of introducing virtual entities therein. Such games could belong to the entire set of existing gaming categories: 3D Action and Adventure,

Simulation, Sports, Role-Playing, Fighting, Puzzle, Racing, and the like.

Referring now to Fig. 5 which a reproduction of the visual display surface of an exemplary user interface associated with the virtual entity activity center application 70 of Fig. 4. The application 70 is initiated by the user of client system 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 utilizing a graphical user interface (GUI), an appropriate user interface device such as a keyboard device 53 of Fig. 4 which is preferably connected to display device 55 of Fig. 4. Application 70 visual display is framed as a standard GUI display window, which is known in the art. The display consists of three main areas. A visual entities display space 152 to hold visual entity sub-windows, tree-control space 154 to hold text formatted lists of pre-defined visual entities identifications, and a control space 156 to hold buttons and menus required to the suitable operation of the application. Visual entities display space 152 has a pre-defined visual background. Space 152 is designed for the display of virtual entity sub-windows 158, 160, 161, and pre-defined entity locations 162, 163 for other entity sub-windows. Each of the areas, controls, and sub-windows can be re-sized, maximized, minimized, or moved. The structure of the display is "skinnable" i.e., the shapes, colors and positions of the various items can be controlled by the individual user. In is important to note that additional controls, buttons and menu items could be added to support additional functionalities. Space 152 is designed to be utilized as the area within which the virtual entity sub-windows could be opened, moved and played with. Space 152 will support the display of a series of entities with specific indications relating to the missing elements in the series. Tree-control 154 displays to the user the list of the local virtual entities stored in database 76. Tree-control 154 is divided into marshaled virtual entity sets or series. On the control bar space 156 there could be several buttons functional in the performance of diverse actions: a) Viewing a virtual entity - load a virtual entity from database 76 b) Hiding or un-hiding a virtual entity c) Moving virtual entity to the desktop - removing virtual entity from the desktop d) Arranging virtual entities in tiling e) Printing a specific entity or print a series of entities f) Accessing the meeting place "Lobby" to interact with other users g) When accessing the "Lobby" diverse other buttons on control bar space 156 become enabled. For example buttons functional for:

1) Offering virtual entity for exchange

2) Performing an offered exchange

3) Moving to a specific game.

The standard buttons and/or menu items will be functional for the following standard actions: close display, resize display, move, preferences, maximize, minimize, and the like. Tree-control 154 may be replaced by a visual list with equivalent functionality to the textual list, displaying simplified sub-windows in the proper sequence to represent local visual entities.

Visual entities are represented by appropriate data structures such as binary files. For each binary entity file there exists an information record to hold the entity's identification such as "Logoman" and a control record to indicate the status of the entity. Although virtual entities are typically opened within a sub-window, the entities could be loaded independently of a window frame to the desktop or any other visual background displayed. The sub-window containing the entity is displayed either in Visual entities display space 152 or could be displayed independently of the application on any display frame such as the network browser window. The sub-window has several functionalities performed through the suitable interface devices such as the keyboard 53 or the pointing device ("mouse") 52: a) Activating animations and sound b) Rotating the visual entity c) Zooming in - Zooming out d) Spinning the visual entity e) Freezing the visual entity f) Print the visual entity.

Users of the client system 54 of Fig. 3 can interact with other users of identical client system 10,12,14,16 in order trade in visual entities, to engage in games to win entities, and to exchange trade-related information. In order to interact with the users of the other virtual entity client systems 10,12,14,16 and initiate sessions for exchanges or games related to entities, a user has to enter a virtual meeting place referred to as the ""Lobby"". The "Lobby" is a program module that simulates a meeting place between the registered users of the system in order to allow for initiation exchange sessions or gaming sessions. The "Lobby" utilizes the chat engine 122 of Fig. 3 in order to manage an on-line conversation in text format or more advanced formats between two or more users. Chat sessions and chatting rooms are known in the art. The Lobby routine is a suitable virtual entity exchange and gaming mechanism wrapped by the chat engine. Entering the Lobby is a substantially identical procedure to the opening a chat session between two or more users. In the preferred embodiment of the present invention entering the Lobby is accomplished by manipulating the suitable user interface device such as the keyboard device or the pointing device. The activation of a pre-defined control such as a button or menu item on control bar space 156 of Fig. 5 effects the display of the Lobby screen on the display device 55 of Fig. 4 within the virtual entity display space 152 of Fig. 5. Referring now to Fig. 6 which shows the Lobby sub- window 181. Lobby sub-window 181 consists of rooms list 174, on-line participants list 170, private room 172, private room participants 180, 182, connect button 178, private room request box, and text display area 176. The functionality of the Lobby is as follows: a) When a user enters the Lobby the user's name inserted into the on-line participants list 170. b) The user is provided with the option of conversing with other users by entering appropriate text into the text display area 176. c) The user is allowed to open a private room by entering a demand to the private room request box 175 d) The user may enter a private room by appropriate activation of a pre-defined control Subsequent to finding a partner to a potential virtual entity exchange the users will perform the following steps in order to complete a transaction: a) Creating a private room and entering the room b) Activating the connect control 178 c) The virtual activity enter application 70 of Fig. 4 belonging to both participants will be enter a direct communication mode to enable an on-line exchange of entities or engaging in an on-line game.

Referring now to Fig. 7 in the on-line exchange mode the virtual entity activity centers of the participating users 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 are dynamically connected. The exchange is typically executed among the two connected users 10,12, 14,16 of Fig. 2. The on-line exchange is going to be described next. The connection is established through the virtual entity server exchange module 110 of

Fig. 5. As a result the virtual entities of the connected users are opened and displayed simultaneously enabling both partners to observe the opposite collection. Optionally the users can choose not to display some of the entities as bargaining tactics. The list of collections is displayed on the collection display spaces 184 and 190. The entities to be exchanged are displayed in the exchange sub-windows 186 and 188. Chat window 196 is used for the discussion and the negotiation of the deal. Control button 173 used to offer an entity for exchange and control button 174 is used to indicate the acceptance of an offer. The exchange process is performed in the following manner: a)The users 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 engage in discussion of the exchange b)User A selects an entity from the list of collection 184 to exchange and presses control button 173 c)User B receives a streamed 3D image of the offered virtual entity d)User B selects an entity from the list of collection 190 and presses control button 173 e)User A receives a streamed 3D image of the offered virtual entity f) To finalize the exchange both users press control button 174 g)After appropriate examination of the ownership relationships by the server system the exchange of the entities is completed. h)The transaction record is created of the exchange by the server system exchange module. i) The ownership data of in the information table 120 of the server system is suitably updated. It is important to note that the exchange will not take place if the ownership data recorded in the information file of the server does not match the identifications of the participating users. Thus, an illegally copied virtual entity can not be traded, participate in a game or otherwise manipulated on-line. The virtual entities exchange-related delivery path may be different from case to case according to the specific circumstances. Typically the entity belonging originally to user A will be deleted from the local virtual entities database 76 of Fig. 3 and will be transmitted to user B's client system via the server system 30 of Fig. 2.

Conversely the entity belonging originally to user B will be deleted from user B's system and will be transmitted to user A's platform via server system 30 of Fig. 2. In some circumstances the entities exchanged may be transmitted directly from the virtual entity server 30 of Fig. 2 to minimize network traffic. The exchange related data such as previous owner, new owner, entity identification, time stamp and the like is assembled into a transaction record, indexed and inserted into transactions table 124 of Fig. 5. Referring now to Fig. 8 the games involving virtual entities based substantially on the same principles governing the above-described exchange mechanism. After entering the Lobby by activating the appropriate control buttons on the control bar space 156 of Fig. 6 the users of client systems 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 connect to the virtual entity server system 30 of Fig. 2 and utilizing the chat engine 122 of Fig. 3 engage in a virtual entity related discussion, which is performed via the Lobby display 181 of Fig. 6 in a similar manner to the preliminaries leading to the exchange interaction. A private room is opened and entered. When the users 10,12,14,16 of Fig. 2 decide upon the performance of a game an appropriate control is activated and the gaming mode is activated by the display of the gaming window 191. Similarly to the exchange mode in the gaming mode also the virtual entity activity centers of both users is connected. The virtual entity collections are displayed on the list of collection display sub-windows 184 and 190. Utilizing the chat window 198 a suitable game is selected and the opening display 193 of the game is displayed. To initiate the game both users press the Start Set control 192. Each user is allowed to set an agreed upon number of entities into the game. The entities set 186, 188 are displayed within the gaming space 193 of both users. When both users complete the preparations the control button Start Game 194 is pressed in order to initiate the game. Typically the rules of the games vary. The common characteristic of the entire set of games is the ruling guide that a user can win or loose virtual entities either by shooting/manipulating entities participating in the game directly or by gaining points, the total of which is translated into the number of entities won or lost.

After the completion of the game the movement of the entities from client system to client system is substantially similar to the transfer of entities following an exchange. A suitable transaction record is created in the virtual server system 30 of Fig.2 and the ownership status flags of won or lost entities is suitably updated in the control table 122 and information table 120 of Fig. 3.

The proposed method and system includes several additional features. For example the virtual entity server system provides the users with the capabilities to download virtual entities from the server system. To ensure distribution of entities the option of Daily Download is introduced. The option gives entities to the users without charges or conditions in order to increase the attraction of the activities related to the virtual entities. Additional useful services such as match-making are provided. Match-making is the capability of finding users on-line with whom an interested party can trade or play.

It is important to note that, while the present invention is described in the context of a fully functional computer system, those skilled in the art will appreciate that the present invention is capable of being applied within a variety of computer systems and other similar devices and that the present invention applies equally regardless of the particular type of hardware platform being utilized. While the invention was particularly shown as described with reference to a preferred embodiment, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes in form and detail may be made without departing from the scope of the invention. Utilization of the" Internet in association with the method and system described therein is not a necessary feature of the present invention. The present invention is applicable to other communication networks besides the Internet such as a cellular communication network, an interactive cable television system, or a satellite communication environment. The Internet, as described is only one example of a remote network that can be utilized in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention. It is therefore contemplated that modifications can be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the present invention as defined in the appended claims.

Claims

CLAIM:
1. A method for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects, comprising the steps of: in a first computer system connected to a data communication network and associated with a server system offering virtual objects for collection, establishing a graphical object representing a virtual character, communicating the virtual object representing virtual character to a second computer system connected to the data communication network and associated with a client system presenting requests for the virtual object, and accessing the contents of the visual object to recover the encoded identity and ownership information residing therein, and validating the identity and ownership information associated with the visual object; and maintaining dynamically the ownership information associated with the visual object, in the second computer, accessing the contents of the visual object received from the first computer system, and manipulating the visual object received from the first computer system, including displaying, moving, playing the visual object, and communicating requests to the first computer system regarding the creation of links to a third computer system connected to the data communication network and associated with a client system.
2. The method of collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 1, further comprising the steps of: in the first computer system, registering the virtual object representing the virtual character, connecting the second computer system associated with a client system to a third computer system associated with a client system, registering virtual object related transactions between the client system associated with the second computer and the client system associated with the third computer.
3. The method of collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 1, further comprising the steps of: in the second computer system, introducing requests to the server system associated with the first computer system for communication with the client system associated with the third computer system, performing a set of virtual object collection related activities with the client system associated with the third computer system via the server system associated with the first computer system.
4. The method of performing a set of virtual object collection related activities of claim 3, further comprising the steps of: in the second computer system; managing virtual object related negotiations with the client system associated with the third computer system via the server system associated with the first computer system, performing computer games with the client system associated with the third computer via the server system associated with the first computer.
5. The method of performing computer games of claim 4, further comprising the steps of: in the second computer, selecting specific virtual characters as participant characters in the computer games, selecting specific virtual characters as prizes in the computer games.
6. A system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects, comprising the elements of: a virtual object is a single self-contained entity and includes, as integral parts of the virtual object: a displayable three dimensional image representing a virtual character, encoded textual information relating to the virtual object including data relating to the identity of the virtual object, and encoded textual information relating to the ownership of the virtual object.
7. The system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 6, further comprising the elements of: in the first computer, a virtual entity builder routine to manufacture specific virtual objects, a virtual entity database to hold a set of virtual objects, a virtual object ownership manager to register modifications in the relationship between a virtual entity and an owner of the virtual entity, a virtual entity server logic manager to control, to supervise, and to manage the various routines operative in the running of the system.
8. The system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 7, further comprising the elements of:
In the first computer, a games database to store a set of computer games, a transaction table to hold the list of virtual object-related transactions between the first computer system, the second computer system, and the third computer system, a virtual entity sets registry to store sets of linked virtual objects, a chat engine to provide for communication between the client system associated with the second computer and the client system associated with the third computer.
9. The system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 6, further comprising the elements of: In the first computer, a virtual entity activity center routine to manage a set of virtual object-related activities, a virtual entities database to hold a set of virtual objects communicated from the first and third computer system, a gaming engine to provide for the performance of games with the participation of the virtual objects.
10. The system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 6, further comprising the elements of: a virtual object redemption device to communicate with the server system associated with the first computer in order to validate and register virtual object related transactions.
11. The system for collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 6, further comprising the elements of: in the first computer, a virtual entity redemption module to communicate with the virtual object redemption devices.
12. A method for a controlled collecting of data communication network-based virtual objects, comprising the steps of: in a first computer system connected to a data communication network and associated with a server system offering virtual objects for collection, transmitting the at least one virtual objects representing virtual characters to at least one client system associated with a second computer system, and updating dynamically the ownership information associated with the visual object, authenticating the identity and ownership information associated with the visual object; and in the second computer, obtaining the content of the visual objects received from the first computer system, and manipulatively executing the visual objects received from the first computer system, and communicatively introducing requests to the first computer system regarding the establishment of links to a client system associated with a third computer system connected to the data communication network.
13. The method collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 12, further comprising the steps of: in the first computer system, dynamically registering the virtual objects representing virtual characters, communicatively linking the second computer system associated with a client system to a third computer system associated with a client system, recording virtual objects-related transactions between the client system associated with the second computer and the client system associated with the third computer.
14. The method of collecting data communication network-based virtual objects of claim 12, further comprising the steps of: in the second computer system, presenting requests to the server system associated with the first computer system for communication with the client system associated with the third computer system, executing a set of virtual object collection related activities with the client system associated with the third computer system utilizing the services of the server system associated with the first computer system.
PCT/IL2001/000011 2001-01-04 2001-01-04 Method and system for a set of interrelated activities converging on a series of collectible virtual objects WO2002054327A1 (en)

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